SAIPAN — Asked about the ongoing House Committee on Judiciary and Governmental Operations investigation into his public expenditures, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands Gov. Ralph Torres said he is confident that everything he has done as chief executive has been in the best interest of the CNMI.
He noted that the committee is still "investigating" the documents that were provided to the House by his administration last year.
"They did this a year ago. And they still have the same information. They're asking questions about the same information again. They're concerned about, I mean, so many different things. So, for me, at the end of the day, they're going to realize that everything that I have done has not violated any law," the governor said.
His political opponents in the House said he violated the law prohibiting first-class or business class government travel, but the Office of the Public Auditor in March stated "that regulations do not appear to explicitly prohibit the purchase of first-class and business class airline tickets."
Torres said the ongoing "investigation" conducted by the JGO committee is a political move on the part of the House leadership.
They should be looking into ways to protect the retirees or to find $10 million for the medical referral program, he added.
"But I don't see any action by them. ... They continue to do what they feel is in their political interest. In the meantime, I will continue to do what I believe is right, what I was elected for: bring back the economy (and make) sure (that) the livelihood of every individual in the CNMI gets better," Torres said.
Citing the actions taken by his administration during the global COVID-19 pandemic, he said the CNMI continues to be one of the safest places on Earth, which, he said, the House leadership does not want to acknowledge.
"But I expect that from them. I don't see any action from any of them to better our community again. But we're going to see that. I will continue to do what I need to do, and we'll go from there," the governor said.
Considering the disasters that have struck the Commonwealth in the past few years – from super typhoons to the global pandemic that shut down the islands' only industry – Torres said he can almost guarantee that there has not been a single CNMI governor who has experienced what he has experienced during his tenure.
Since serving as lt. governor and now as governor, he said he has led efforts in helping the CNMI recover from one disaster after another, and these include Typhoon Soudelor, Typhoon Mangkhut, Super Typhoon Yutu and the COVID-19 pandemic.
"You saw the recovery," Torres said. "We bounced back faster with all of the federal partners that we've had – the partnership, the relationship and the friendship that we've had with all of our federal partners, from our armed (forces and) federal officials. We handled Super Typhoon Yutu and Mangkhut extremely well, and again, here with this pandemic, we only have one shot to do it right, and we did it right (from) the beginning," he added.
"We (took) bold actions, and these actions that I (took) – my administration and, of course, everyone that's involved – the first and foremost priority is our healthcare, our community. And we continue to protect everyone during this pandemic, and I'm happy to do so."
He added, "So, for those who are still skeptical about this leadership, take a deep breath and analyze what's going on with the rest of the world, and realize how lucky we are here because of actions that have been taken by this administration."
He said during the early days of the pandemic, "I was out there every day. Every shipment that came during COVID, I was there. I remember my kids telling me, 'Dad, why are you going out there? You tell everybody to stay home. Why are you going out?' But I said, 'You know, Dad is in a different position. If our first responder is out there, I want to make sure that our first responders know that their governor is out there with them. I'm not hiding in the house and waiting six months later to go out and then start criticizing (the work that has been done). No, I'm out there with them – with the nurses, doctors, first responders and those handing out water. The community knows that I put (in) my time and my effort for the sake of the people, and for sure, I will continue to work hard for our community.'"